“A Chorus Line” at O’Connell & Company

The cast of “A Chorus Line” at O’Connell & Company.

“A Chorus Line” with book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban opened this weekend at O’Connell & Company. This long running Broadway musical won Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. It was conceived and originally directed and choreographed by Buffalo’s Michael Bennett. The kids in the chorus of musicals, nicknamed the Gypsies, are usually not recognized for their dedication to dance and theatre or acknowledged for their unique personalities and backgrounds. This show was based on a series of late night workshops that Gypsies had with Michael Bennett where he tape recorded their life stories. Many of the stories appear verbatim in the script and lyrics for this show.

The O’Connell & Company production of “A Chorus Line” has been directed and choreographed by DeWayne Barrett who is a veteran of many productions of this show. His choreography is impressive – especially the long, complicated opening audition sequence and the show’s grand finale, “One.” Mr. Barrett also appears on stage as the director, Zach, and he gives the role a commanding presence. 

This is an ambitious undertaking – casting sixteen very specific characters who have to be played by performers who are strong singers, dancers, and actors. There is a large cast and I got the feeling that everyone was very glad to be back onstage after the long pandemic hiatus. Heading up the company is Aimee Lynn Walker as Cassie, a character based in part on Donna McKechnie who had a long term and volatile relationship with Michael Bennett. Ms. Walker’s big solo number, “The Music and the Mirror” elected cheers and whistles from the audience and the best acting of the evening is her fight scene with Zach.

The talented cast also includes James Anthony Caposito who has plenty of zip, all the right moves, and is one of the best dancers in the production. His solo number “I Can Do That” starts the show off with a big wonderful bang. Anna Fernandez is a stunning and forthright Morales.

Kris Bartolomeo is a formidable Sheila. Ms. Bartolomeo is always in character and, because of that, she is a standout even in the group numbers. Her monologue and “At the Ballet” were affecting.

In smaller roles, but also making a strong impression, are Marc Thagard who is an adorable Richie and who dances with great verve and Joey Bucheker who is riveting as the intense Leonard Frey-type  of the group. Thomas Evans and Lizzie Arnold are perfectly in sync as a married couple and they do a joyous job with their duet, “Sing.” 

This is a high spirited, pleasing production that has obviously been mounted with lots of love and attention to detail.

Masks are optional but encouraged. Proof of vaccination must be shown for admittance. 

The show runs 2 and half hours including a 15 minute intermission.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit at Alleyway Theatre

The cast of White Rabbit Red Rabbit at Alleyway Theatre.

The Alleyway Theatre is looking very snazzy under the new management of Chris J. Handley. The lobby, in particular, has had a terrific makeover and now sports a glorious full wall mural by Audra Linsner. There are more beverage options at the bar than there used to be, and munchies have started to be introduced, too. The times, they are a-changing! 

The WNY premiere of White Rabbit Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour opens the Alleyway season. This theatrical piece is performed by one actor and the role can be played by an actor of any age, gender, or appearance. I saw the production on September 24 and the actor that evening was Don Gervasi.

I had asked our editor for a ticket for either the night Mr. Gervasi or Todd Benzin was performing as I had heard that feeling comfortable with improv would be a real asset for whoever performed this piece, and Don Gervasi and Todd Benzin are the absolutely top improvisers in town. I was glad that I saw the play on the night that Mr. Gervasi was starring because his onstage ad libs were the funniest lines in the show.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit was written in 2010 by a young man who couldn’t leave Iran because he refused to serve in the military but who wanted his voice to be heard around the world. Playwright Soleimanpour’s wish was certainly granted — this theatre piece has been a huge hit worldwide with productions in more than 20 different languages.

The gimmick here is that there is a new actor every night and this actor is handed the script, in a sealed envelope, onstage and performs a cold reading. I love this concept – it’s sounds fresh and exciting – but parts of this play are very wordy and a cold reading of page after page is not necessarily the best way to keep an audience’s attention. 

Styles, tone, and mood change considerably throughout the evening. My companion and I enjoyed Mr. Gervasi’s humor and confidence. We liked the audience participation element very much – although some of the set-ups weren’t taken to completion. I can’t be more specific. The audience is not supposed to give away anything about this play. This is by no means the fault of Mr. Gervasi. The play itself takes strange twists and turns — sometimes philosophical, sometimes Pirandello-esque.

The set by Christopher Swader and Justin Swader is clean and stark with appropriately red touches. Emma Schimminger’s lighting is very effective. 

Kudos to Don Gervasi, Todd Benzin, and all the other courageous “rabbits” for tackling this demanding assignment! 

Next onstage at the Alleyway Theatre is a brand new Golden Girls show directed by Todd Warfield and tickets are going fast! Incidentally, there was a nice sized audience at White Rabbit Red Rabbit, too. I was thrilled about seeing so many theatre goers downtown again. Audiences members must show proof of vaccination and wear masks throughout the evening.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit runs about 85 minutes, depending on the actor’s delivery and the audience participation element. For more information, click here.

The Onion Game at Irish Classical Theatre

 Stan Klimecko as Onion and Louie Visone as Ogie.  Photo is by Gene Witkowski. 

A World Premiere by an award winning playwright has settled in for a run at The Irish Classical Theatre Company. “The Onion Game,” which is billed as a hilarious black comedy, was written by Bryan Delaney who flew in from Ireland to attend the opening night performance.

“The Onion Game” centers around an extremely dysfunctional family – each member of which has their own passions and eccentricities. Actually, “dysfunctional” is putting it mildly.  Think “You Can’t Take It With You” gone horribly horribly wrong. 

At the risk of sounding old fashioned and plebeian, I prefer plays where there is at least one character who I can identify with or at least care about. In “The Onion Game” each character is wilder and stranger than the next. “The Onion Game” reminded me of John Guare’s “House of Blue Leaves” which also features a collection of off-center characters and also moves from dark humor to the macabre. Somehow, however, with Blue Leaves, the ending is strangely poignant and weirdly beautiful. There is nothing redeeming about the ending of “The Onion Game.” Act I is amusing in an audacious, “I can’t believe he said that” way, but Act II becomes just plain horrific.  Act II also felt over long. There are some surprising plot twists, but then the play continues for another grim 20 minutes or so. I found myself thinking, “Oh, destroy each other already and let’s get out of here.” It reminded me of a tedious production of Anthony and Cleopatra that I once saw where, by Act 5, I kept thinking, “Give her the asp!”

This was a solid production.  Greg Natale has the always difficult task at the Irish Classical Theatre of directing in the round and it can be frustrating for audience members to miss significant facial expressions and even dialogue because of this challenge. Some plays just don’t lend themselves to this theatrical set up as well as other pieces do. The one quibble I have with the direction is that Natale let some of the minor characters go way over the top with their performances so that, instead of human beings, we saw interpretations akin to Tim Conway’s sketch characters on the old Carol Burnett show. In the program notes, the playwright indicates that the style of the play is heightened realism but, with these characters, any small semblance of realism was lost. The actors who played the roles are usually terrific but here their performances, although funny, felt indulgent.  Mr. Natale did a wonderful job of directing the central actors playing the family, however, and these are very demanding and provocative roles.

Stan Klimecko, one of the best actors in Buffalo, turns in another masterful performance in the meaty and difficult role of the father. He is superb throughout the play, but I especially enjoyed his lighter moments when he pranced and capered around the stage – sometimes on tiptoes and other times in demi plie. 

Kelly Meg Brennan is also fine as his formidable, tough as nails wife and Louie Viscone gives an equally strong performance in the extremely distasteful role of their nasty and hedonistic son. 

Rounding out the unhappy family circle is Ava Schara as their seriously neglected young daughter — appropriately intense, off beat, and wan. She makes Wednesday from The Addams Family look normal!

Technically, the production is of consistently high quality with special kudos to sound designer Tom Maker and a filmmaker for the quirky music and videos played during the scene changes.

The production runs three hours with one 10 minute intermission.
“The Onion Game” runs until March 29, 2020. For more information, click here.

“Glorious!” at O’Connell & Company

Mary Kate O’Connell as Florence Foster Jenkins in “Glorious!” at O’Connell & Company

“Glorious!,” a comedy by Peter Quilter, is currently being presented by O’Connell and Company in their lovely new theatre in the Elmwood Commons, the former Philip Sheridan School In the Town of Tonawanda. It’s easy to find the new home of O’Connell and Company; it’s on Elmwood just north of Sheridan. There is plenty of free parking behind the building. In addition to the theatre, O’Connell and Company now have a rehearsal space, lots of room for costumes and props, a special all purpose room for parties and events that includes a kitchen, a box office, and a refreshment stand. It’s a very nice set up.

The play is subtitled The True Story of Florence Foster Jenkins the Worst Singer in the World. Ms. Jenkins was a wealthy turn of the twentieth century socialite who loved to sing opera although she had absolutely no vocal ability. Ms. Jenkins thought that she had talent galore, however, and gave a series of recitals which culminated in a performance at Carnegie Hall. The members of her audiences were personal friends who cheered for her (and laughed as discretely as possible) and helped her maintain the illusion of being a great soprano. Her “fans” included celebrities like Harold Arlen and Cole Porter, and she was the toast of New York City.

Ms. Jenkins’ life has been the subject of five plays, a feature film starring Meryl Streep, and a documentary. Glorious! is light weight material. The characters aren’t fleshed out and we don’t being to understand the why’s or wherefores of Florence Jenkins, her part-time paramour St. Clair, or the other significant people in her life. The storyline takes some odd twists and turns. This play touches on some of her life’s more memorable moments including the traffic accident that enabled her to hit a high C and her performances as Carmen which included throwing flowers to the audience. What the play does best is give us one-liners which are peppered throughout and affords us plenty of opportunities to hear Ms. Jenkins sing. And the theme of the piece, reach for the stars, is inspiring.

Mary Kate O’Connell is effervescent as Florence and she clearly has a ball playing the opera star who lives in a dream world or her own design. Ms. O’Connell is bright, bouncy, and beautiful. Her three opera performances are lots of fun, true to Florence’s real life, and the highlight of the production. Her high pitched yelps are hysterical and are not to be forgotten!

Ms. O’Connell is ably supported by three talented actors — Roger VanDette plays St. Clair, a flamboyant, down and out thespian of the old school. Greg Gjurich plays her accompanist and Mr. Gurwich is particularly captivating in Act 2 when, at last, he is smitten and falls under Florence’s spell.  And Anne Gayley is delightful is as Florence’s buddy – a giddy, sherry-swilling society lady and patron of the arts.

Rounding out the cast are Kate Olena as an angry realist who refuses to pretend to see the emperor’s new clothes, Smirna Mercedes as a disgruntled Latina maid, and Mira Haley Steuer as the Bellhop.

There is solid direction by Steve Vaughan. The array of lovely period dresses and Florence’s amusing costumes are by Adam M. Wall. The stage is full of gorgeous flowers by Julianne Panty, and the masterful sound design is by Tom Makar. Kimberly Pukay did the lights; sets are by Bill Baldwin. To keep the audience’s attention during scene changes, there are interesting videos by  Brian Milbrand.

The production runs two hours, including one intermission.

For more information about showtimes and dates, click here.

‘Nunsense: A-Men!’ at Shea’s Smith Theatre

The musical comedy ‘Nunsense: A- Men!’ is at the Smith Theatre weekends through February 2. This is an O’Connell & Company production. ‘Nunsense A-men!’ is the original ‘Nunsense’ show with all the characters portrayed by male actors, instead of the usual female actors.

The original ‘Nunsense’ is a musical by Dan Goggin that opened off-Broadway in 1985 and ran for over 3,000 performances – making it the second longest running off-Broadway show in history. Only ‘The Fantasticks’ had a longer run. ‘Nunsense’ is so wildly popular that there have been six sequel shows and five spin-offs. The different versions have been performed in 26 languages with thousands of performances world wide.

As in all the ‘Nunsense’ shows, the storyline is slight and goofy, but the tunes are bouncy and the lyrics are wickedly funny. The thin plot is about a small band of nuns in Hoboken, New Jersey who are putting on a musical review to raise the money to bury four sisters who are currently in the freezer! Poison stew, leprosy, and a production of ‘Grease’ all come into play. Don’t worry about the story – just sit back and enjoy!

Director Mary Kate O’Connell has mounted a pleasant, seamless production. Incidentally, Ms. O’Connell was the very first person to play the Reverend Mother in ‘Nunsense’ here in WNY – starting a long tradition in our community of revivals and sequels of the show. O’Connell & Company break the fourth wall many times and they have thrown in a healthy dose of audience participation. Ad libs  are okay, too, and it all adds to the merriment of the production.

The cast of five are all strong musical theatre performers and, as much as possible, they are playing it straight. This is not campy – it’s Nunsense and the actors happen to be male, not female.

Michael Starzynski is primly commanding as the mother superior until the end of the first act when she is flying high – that’s when Mr. Starzynski has a chance to let loose and he really shines! Free Willy!

As Reverend Mother’s ambitious assistant, Jake Hayes gives a peppy, good-natured performance. He leads the finale with great energy and gave the cheering audience a rocking good time.

The rank-and-files nuns are also solid. Daniel Lendzian is a powerhouse as starstruck, streetwise Sr. Robert Anne. Nick Lama is appropriately sweet and vacant as Sr. Mary Amnesia and his crackerjack  puppetry is one of the highlights of the show. Joey Bucheker is ebullient as the Donna McKechnie of the convent. His performance is topped off with an impressive tour jete on toe shoes! 

There is spritely choreography by Mr. Bucheker and all the production values – including the set by Bill Baldwin and lights by Kimberly Pukay are fine. The top notch musical direction and keyboard accompaniment is by Joe Isgar and Robert Mazierski on the drums.

Once in a while, the dialogue is a bit risqué, but this is essentially a family show for preteens on up.

‘Nunsense A -Men!’ is a solid and entertaining production that is sure to warm your heart on a cold January night.

The show runs 2 hours including intermission.

‘Nunsense: A-Men!’ runs until February 2, 2020, and is presented at Shea’s Smith Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – Holiday Edition’ at the Cabaret at Alleyway Theatre

The cast of “The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – Holiday Edition” at the Cabaret at Alleyway Theatre.

“The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – Holiday Edition” by David Cerda is running through December 28 in the Cabaret at the Alleyway Theatre.

The show is based on the long running sitcom which starred Bea Arthur, Betty White, and Rue McClanahan as seniors who share a home in Miami, Florida – becoming each other’s emotional support in their “golden” years of life. The show’s theme song was “Thank You For Being a Friend.”

The sitcom frequently used double entendres – usually flung at Rue McClanahan’s man crazy character, Blanche. The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – Holiday Edition goes way beyond double entendres. This show is downright raunchy – definitely for an adults only crowd. The audience enjoyed it, and there were laughs and shrieks throughout the evening.

In reference to the audience, I was expecting the usual folks who go to see the Summer Camp BUA drag productions. Instead, the opening night audience was 98% female baby boomers – many of whom were ardent Golden Girls fans. And they got the opportunity to test their Golden Girls know-how in the audience participation quiz show segments of the evening which were fun for everyone. Incidentally, wine and beer are sold right in the theatre and this also contributed to the party atmosphere of the production.

Director Todd Warfield has kept things big, bright, and bouncy and his costumes are creative and colorful and certainly in keeping with the characters. 

Guy Tomassi stars as Dorothy, the Bea Arthur character, and he has mastered her mannerisms and facial expressions. Mr. Tomassi speaks the dialogue in basso profundo tones that are even deeper than Ms. Arthur’s. It’s an amusing performance that doesn’t go over the top.

Joey Bucheker is delightful as Rose, the goofy, naive transplant from Minnesota who was played by Betty White on TV. Mr. Bucheker is known around town for another drag role, the vibrant Betsy Carmichael, and it’s to his credit that his Rose is nothing like his Betsy. He is a performer with range!

Blanche, the libidinous Golden Girl, is played with great verve by Michael Blasdell, and Jessica K. Rasp gets a lot of laughs as the sarcastic Sophia, Dorothy’s mom from Sicily. Rounding out the cast are Tim Goehrig and A. Peter Snodgrass both of whom play multiple roles. I liked them best as MC’s and quiz show hosts where they proved that they are comfortable with improv and audience interaction.

The production includes sitcom music and TV commercials. And, speaking of commercials, here’s a warning to any audience members sitting in the front row – you may find yourself in the splash zone!

The show is dedicated to long time Buffalo actor Timothy Patrick Finnegan who was cast as Sophia but passed away this fall. Mr. Finnegan appeared in many shows at the Alleyway and many BUA productions and the theatre community mourns and misses him.

“The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – Holiday Edition” is a wild and zany production with ribald humor. The audience enjoyed the holiday hijinks and gave the show an enthusiastic standing ovation.

The production runs 90 minutes which includes a 15 minute intermission.

‘The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – Holiday Edition is presented at the Cabaret at Alleyway Theatre until December 28, 2019. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Elf The Musical’ at MusicalFare Theatre

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The cast of “Elf The Musical” at MusicalFare Theatre. Photo by Doug Weyand.

MusicalFare Theatre’s production of Elf the Musical opened last night on the Daemen College campus. Elf the Musical, which has a book by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan and a score by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, is based on the popular Christmas film that starred Will Ferrell and Bob Newhart. The musical version of Elf had a short run on Broadway during the 2010 holiday season and it has toured the country several times since then.

. . . a joyous production  – musically solid, bright and cheery, and a great way to get into the spirit of the season.

Elf is a light-hearted fantasy. It’s the story of Buddy, a human who crawled into Santa’s bag when he was a baby. Buddy has been raised by elves in North Pole, but now that he is grown up, he decides to find his roots and he travels to New York City to meet his biological family. 

MusicalFare has knocked itself out with this colorful and energetic production!

There is a rollicking and right on the money combo of musicians directed by Theresa Quinn and they add much to the proceedings. Director Michael Walline has done a great job.The show is long, but my attention never flagged. This is a polished, complicated production and opening night was flawless. Mr. Walline choreography is cute and fun. There are lots of dances – I especially enjoyed the inventive opening number with the elves.

Chris J. Handley, looking like a cross between Danny Kaye and Harpo Marx, is fine in the demanding central role of Buddy the Elf. He runs the gamut from pixilated to amusing to soulful and, Mr. Handley gives such an exuberant, effervescent performance that I’d be surprised if he isn’t nominated for an Artie Award.

Buddy’s New York family, Jennifer Mysliwy, Johnny Kiener, and Louis Colaiacovo as the frequently frenzied father – offer able support and I especially enjoyed a rare quiet moment when the wife and son sang their letter to Santa “I Believe In You.” Stevie Jackson is the petite blonde object of Buddy’s affection and her solo is well performed and provides us with a much needed break from the holiday hoopla. Nick Lama is a very capable Santa, the narrator of the show, and Alex Watts packs a punch as an employee who is utterly captivated by Buddy.

There is a high spirited and talented small chorus, and they are kept very busy all night – singing, dancing, skating, tapping, and changing costumes. Backstage must be a madhouse! They are the hardest working chorus I’ve seen on stage in a long time!

The spiffy all-purpose scenery, complete with convenient cubby holes, by Chris Cavanagh enables set changes to be quick and fluid, and there is prodigious and effective use of back screen projections. Sound and lightning by Mr. Cavanagh are also first rate.

Kudos to Kari Drozd for the extensive costume collection with some real winners including the girls’ 1950’s style white and gold full skirts in the finale and, in contrast,  Ms. Mysliwy’s chic, flattering modern wardrobe.

My only quibble is with the script, not the production.  The plot meanders, and, outside of Buddy, we really don’t get to know any of the characters well or feel for them. There is no time for character development because there are so many production numbers. They are all well performed but, after a while, it’s too much of a good thing. It’s like eating 10 desserts! 

A word of warning – I would think twice about bringing the youngest family members to this show as they’d be exposed to the disillusioning sight of the disgruntled drunken Santas who open the second act. It’s a funny scene but not for those who still believe.

All in all, however, MusicalFare’s Elf the Musical is a joyous production  – musically solid, bright and cheery, and a great way to get into the spirit of the season.

Elf the Musical runs two hours and 40 minutes including a 15 minute intermission.

“Elf The Musical runs until December 22, 2019 and is presented at MusicalFare Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class’ by Rocking Horse Productions at The Meeting House

Sydney Perkins is Sister Robert Anne in “Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class.”

Rocking Horse Productions has recently moved to the charming Williamsville Meeting House for a season of Theatre in the Village. I attended the opening performance of Dan Goggin’s Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class: A One Nun-sense Musical Event. The Rocking Horse season will continue in March with the musical revue Forever Plaid.

Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class is one of ten popular Nunsense musical shows which include a Christmas show, a country western show, a Hollywood show, and even Meshuganuns – an all faith show! This time around Sister Robert Anne has broken away from the other nuns for an evening to teach a class in how to create your own cabaret act. The many songs in this one woman show are a collection from the rest of the Nunsense series.

. . . a crowd pleaser and got a well deserved standing ovation from the enthusiastic opening night audience.

Sister Robert Anne is one tough cookie! She was born on the wrong side of Brooklyn and raised in a jazz club. Taking the veil hasn’t changed her a bit. She’s feisty, out spoken, and full of pep. The vivacious Ms. Sydnie Perkins plays the role in this production and she’s a powerhouse! Miss Perkins is full of energy – singing, dancing, working a puppet, getting a lot of milage out of her feather boas, and hobnobbing with the audience. She’s a keg of dynamite and her sparkly performance will put a smile on your face. She bounces through the novelty numbers and is very effective with the ballads.

Musical highlights of the production are “What Would Elvis Do” in which Sister is backed up on stage by a chorus line of audience volunteers and the ballad “I Left Him There” which is delivered with great heart by Ms. Perkins.  

John Szablewski is both the Musical Director and the jovial Father John who, in addition to providing spritely and steady piano accompaniment, is the evening’s unofficial MC. We all enjoyed his reactions to the proceedings, his little touches (including the funny glasses), and his occasional humorous ad libbing with Sister Robert Anne.

Direction is by Leigha Marie Eichhorn and choreography is by Mary Loliger. It’s hard to know who did what because the production is practically all musical, but Ms. Eichhorn and Ms. Loliger have put together a seamless and happy romp with lots of variety and never a dull moment.

The classroom set with desk, chalkboard, and St. Anthony is by Chuck Ziehl and costumes (including Sister’s sequined black sneakers – a fun touch) are by Janet Ziehl. Producer Douglas H. Kern has found a lovely new home for his theatre company and aptly selected a season of small scale shows to present in this pleasant, intimate setting. One word of advice for future audience members – bring a seat cushion with you.

There’s a lot of audience interaction in this show! When the house lights come up, be prepared to dance and sing with Sister. And, here’s a tip — if you volunteer to participate in the show, Sister Robert Anne might give you a prize. I got the key to heaven which, you have to admit, is a pretty darn cool thing to have!

The theme of the show is “every day of the week is a Saturday when you’re doing what you choose.” It was clear that both Ms. Perkins and Mr. Szablewski are happily doing what they chose and equally clear that the audience wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else. Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret is a crowd pleaser and got a well deserved standing ovation from the enthusiastic opening night audience.

Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class runs 90 minutes including one intermission. 

Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class runs until November 18, 2019. Click here for tickets.

Theatre Review: ‘Oh My God’ at Jewish Repertory Theatre

The cast of “Oh My God” at Jewish Repertory Theatre.

This evening I attended the Western New York premiere of “Oh My God” by Anat Gov at the Jewish Repertory Theatre. Ms. Gov was one of Israel’s premiere dramatists with scores of plays and television programs to her credit. Like all Israeli students, Ms. Gov studied the Bible throughout her school years. As an adult, Gov founded a Bible study institute.

. . .a very careful and studied production of a philosophical play.

The play takes place in a therapist’s office in modern day Tel Aviv. God is feeling so depressed about His relationship with the people on Earth that He is considering suicide and needs psychological therapy.  Ella, the loving Jewish lady who He has selected for His therapist, has just one hour to convince God not to destroy Himself and all of creation. The therapist is the single parent of a preteen who has autism, and so she has lots of challenges of her own. The heart of the play is the therapy session that takes place in Ella’s office.

There is very little action in “Oh My God.” It’s cerebral – more like theological dialogue than a true play. Perhaps the translation from Hebrew to English is partially to blame. Many of the lines seemed stilted and were delivered in a stagey fashion that seemed odd in such an intimate setting.

This is a  confident and well oiled production of a wordy, difficult piece that has been mastered with aplomb by the cast, Todd Benzin and Lisa Ludwig, who obviously took this assignment very seriously and gave it 100%. For this, they are to be congratulated. Congratulations also to director Saul Elkin for this smooth and well paced production.

One challenge is in the casting. God is described in the play as being impressive and frightening with a deep voice. Mr. Benzin, although he gives this his best effort, just isn’t majestic or mature enough for the role. In fact, in this production, God comes across as younger and less powerful than Ella, the therapist. Ms. Ludwig plays Ella who the play describes as being warm and empathetic. Instead, in this production, Ella seems more enthusiastic about proving her points than she is about giving of herself to God and humanity.

There is a lot of yelling onstage – God is frequently exasperated and Ella is agitated. Potential moments of poignancy, amazement, connection, and humor were rushed through – perhaps in an effort to keep the pace brisk.

Max Goldhirsch does a lovely job as Ella’s son.

Production values are fine throughout. Perhaps if Ms. Ludwig has been costumed in slacks, instead of heels and a skirt, she could have been freer with stage movements. Ella’s office is part of her home, after all, so one wonders why she’s so dressed up. She looks more like Beaver Cleaver’s mom than like a modern day therapist. 

And, it’s quite possible that this is indicated in the script – but there were inexplicable short sudden schmaltzy musical passages throughout the evening. They were more distracting than atmospheric.

This is a very careful and studied production of a philosophical play.

“Oh My God” is 90 minutes with no intermission.

“Oh My God” runs until November 17, 2019 and is presented at Jewish Repertory Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Me and My Girl’ at Niagara Regional Theatre Guild

 

 

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The cast of “Me and My Girl” by Niagara Regional Players

The British musical comedy “Me and My Girl” has settled in for a three week run at The Ellicott Creek Playhouse with a production by Niagara Regional Theatre Guild.The show was written by Noel Gay, Douglas Furber, and L. Arthur Rose, and it opened in London in 1939. Over the years, “Me and My Girl” was best remembered for its hit song, “The Lambeth Walk.”

. . .a high-spirited and satisfying show. . .

Almost 50 years later, the show was revised by Stephen Fry and Mike Ockrent, and it became a hit in London and New York all over again. The tunes are peppy, and there are lots of amusing one-liners. I particularly enjoyed the Stephen Fry touches including “blank rhyming slang,” historical references, and the Pygmalion deus ex machina. Although this is a revision of the original material, “Me and My Girl” still retains the traditional British music hall flavor and it’s fun to watch.

This is a play about the gap between the aristocracy and the cockneys in England. It’s delightful when everyone discovers that, whatever their upbringing, rich people and poor people aren’t so different after all.

Joseph Fratello is strong in the leading role of Bill, a would-be Earl. Mr. Fratello is brash, funny, and good natured with lots of energy and a pleasant singing voice. His performance lights up the stage.

Playing opposite Mr. Fratello is Emily Plotkin as saucy Sally. She is endearing; you can see why Bill would be willing to forgo his new found fortune for her! Ms. Plotkin is a triple threat – creating a three dimensional character, giving the ballads her all, and even tap dancing.

Also noteworthy are Chris Andreana who has an adorable propensity for singing about being an attorney, statuesque Lauren McGowan as the scheming Lady Jacqueline, Adam English as the staunch butler, Dan Zerpa who shines in the Act 2 opening number, Dawn Marcolini Newton as the formidable Duchess, and Chuck Slisz as her stalwart companion.

Nicely rounding out the cast are Tim Goehrig in an amusing turn as an educated policeman, Joanne Perf and Eric Bloom as a doddering lord and lady, Kim Petersdorf giving a warm and believable performance as the cockney landlady, Gary Gaffney as a nobleman with an ear trumpet, and a large hard working ensemble of folks who have lovely singing voices. In the best tradition of community theatre, people of all generational groups are in the production. It’s nice to see a chorus with a diversity of people in it, as opposed to a chorus of look alike Barbies and Kens.

Incidentally, the English accents throughout the production are darned good!

Director Fran Newton keeps this long show moving at a spritely pace and choreographer Dawn Marcolini Newton’s Lampbeth Walk is (appropriately) the highlight of the evening. The number has everything that it’s supposed to have according to the annals of musical theatre history, including duchesses who are surprised to find themselves dancing and people playing the spoons!  It’s a real treat!

A side note: when the script calls for smoking, the actors use unlit cigarettes — a director’s choice that was much appreciated by the audience.

The six piece orchestra is led by musical director Ivan Docenko.

The sets, which were designed by Fran Newton, make prodigious use of a turntable, and the many set changes were well executed and speedy.

Kudos to costume designer Nancy Watts for literally hundreds of lovely gowns! Each member of the chorus must have had a half a dozen costumes! Costume wows include plaid suits and gorgeous wedding gowns. There are lighting quick costume changes, too, and everything went smoothly.

Although I don’t usually include the Stage Manager in these reviews, I want to congratulate Taryn Goehrig who is overseeing a massive production, technically, that was presented without a hitch.

This is a high-spirited and satisfying show, and it’s recommended for the whole family.

The production is 2 hours and 45 minutes, including intermission.

“Me and My Girl” runs until May 19, 2019 and is presented at the Ellicott Creek Playhouse. For more information, click here.